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Referendum on legalisation of cannabis narrowly fails after special votes counted

The counting of special votes has failed to overturn the initial failure of the cannabis referendum, meaning a bill allowing the legalisation of the drug won't be progressed.

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Preliminary results announced today were against legalisation. Source: Seven Sharp

Supporters of legalising cannabis had hoped there would be enough special votes in favour to overturn the preliminary results, which had a result of 53.1 per cent against and 46.1 per cent in support of the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

More than 67 per cent support was needed in the special votes to change the preliminary result. 

After counting of special votes, 50.7 per cent in New Zealanders voted against the Bill, and 48.4 per cent were in favour. 

Today's result cements the unsuccessful referendum result.

The referendum for the End of Life Choice Bill remained in favour of introducing assisted dying, 65.1 per cent in favour and 33.7 per cent against. 

Jacinda Ardern revealed last week she voted in favour in the recreational cannabis referendum. 

The day before election day, she would still not reveal the way she voted, but said whatever the outcome, it was important "young people do not end up damaging themselves as a result of access, because that is what I saw as a young person".

"Second, I don't want to see people unnecessarily criminalised. Whatever outcome, that’s what I think we should be looking to achieve."

After the preliminary results last week, National's Nick Smith said New Zealand would be "healthier, safer and more successful for rejecting the legalisation of recreational cannabis".

"New Zealanders have rightly concluded that legalising recreational cannabis would normalise it, make it more available, increase its use and cause more harm."

After the preliminary result, there had already been calls to decriminalise cannabis

Justice Minister Andrew Little said last week it was "highly unlikely" the preliminary referendum results would be overturned by the special votes.

"On the cannabis question, the specials would have to break 70 per cent 'yes' in order to overturn that result today, so I think we can be pretty sure that the electorate does not support the legalisation of cannabis," he said. 

Family First's Bob McCoskrie of the Say Nope to Dope campaign said last week he was "pretty stoked". 

"We'll celebrate the win, we're glad New Zealanders said nope to dope and understood the perceived benefits of legalisation were not greater than the harms that were going to come on society."

"It's been a hard-fought campaign on both sides. It's good we can have these sorts of debates."